The Thinking Mind, or Feynman’s Joy of Not Knowing

I’ve been listening to the catchy Symphony of Science songs, and in light of the stuff I’ve been reading (Aurobindo/Zen literature), it’s given me a new perspective on things. As the scientist Richard Feynman is well known for expressing, there is a joy in not-knowing something. It’s not scary, it’s exciting! There is always something to figure out. Always some new insight to discover. I think this highlights an important aspect to the reasoning mind. Many spiritual insights are significantly different. They at once illuminate things, only to have us collapse back into this “tinier,” perspective, forever-changed. The problem is of course, from where we “fall back” into, it’s hard to make sense of the experience, often warping it.

I don’t have a problem really with our ordinary mind. In my own brief spiritual experiences, it seems like there is a particular sacredness in reality as we experience it. A particular, challenge? You could say.

I’ve also been really learning from the attitude that “ego” is not something that needs to be destroyed (which sounds like just another ego-game). Mindfulness teacher Shinzen Young has been great for me, in pointing out that “ego” is not a noun but a verb. It’s an activity that we do, and mindfulness can bring our conscious attention to it.

So we have this “ego” and its mind is partially the thinking/ordinary “mental” mind. Aurobindo describes it as such(added bold text for emphasis):

A well-trained intellect is a good preparation of the mind for greater knowledge, but it cannot itself give the yogic knowledge or know the Divine – it can only have ideas about the Divine, but having ideas is not knowledge. Intellectual activities are not part of the inner being – it is the outer mind. To see the Truth does not depend on a big intellect or small intelllect. It depends on being in contact with the Truth and the mind silent and quiet to receive it. The thinking mind with most men is, in matters of life, only an instrument of the vital.

So I would like to point out that our surface activities are only so capable of experiencing, well, the “divine” or in more secular terminology: reality seems to be infinitely more than our surface, conscious mind experiences. If we allow ourselves to plum the depths of our consciousness through contemplation and introspective activities, we are capable of more than the mere “flashlight” description of reality.

Starting here, as ego, as persona, as “searchlight intelligence,” is actually a very beautiful thing. Some say, and as my own personal experiences have confirmed, there is a particular intention for experiencing reality so partially. There is a joy in discovering what one is, to realize they are infinitely more. Life as this way, in this way, is a way to come to discover our “true nature.” This doesn’t discard the surface appearance of things, but in the same way we discover Ego as a verb and not a noun, the world becomes an activity, an arising, a flow of form in which we observe the act of creation in ourselves. Keep in mind that last statement is my opinion, I haven’t read enough Aurobindo to know his stance on it.

At any rate, he describes an aspect called Higher Mind in contrast to the ordinary mind. Keep the scientific method in mind (and many rational oriented philosophy for that matter) as you read this. Also, evolutionarily speaking, keep in mind the animalistic, survival-driven nature of the human mind here:

A thought there is no need of a seeking and self-critical ratiocination, no logical motion step by step towards a conclusion, no mechanism of express or implied deductions and inferences, no building or deliberate concatenation of idea with idea. In order to arrive at an ordered sum or outcome of knowledge: for this limping action of our reason is a movement of Ignorance searching for knowledge, obliged to safeguard Its steps against error, to erect a selective mental structure for its temporary shelter and to base it on foundations already laid and carefully laid but never firm, because it is not supported on a soil of native awareness but imposed on an original soil of nescience.

Notice how philosophical language itself is very physical, very three dimensional. We must overturn, discern, analyze, construct, etc. Philosophical language, to me, is the most physical of all. How could language escape a physical conception, anyway? We live in a physical reality, after all. This, to me, isn’t bad. To become self aware of our language, our limitations, and to know that there is a deeper, more penetrating way to gain insight to reality via spiritual experience, contemplation… I think this is a gift! We can often get lost in our words, our rationalizations, and miss the insight that a silent mind can bring in shining light on its nature. Consider the many descriptions of spiritual experiences, which claim reality of which we appear to exist in is actually very partial, or incomplete.

So, Richard Feynman, there is a joy in not knowing, but there is as you say, a joy in finding out! The “finding out” may not be what we were expecting!

Alan Watts on Thinking:

Edlt: I noticed the play of words here. “Not Knowing,” is also a joy in simply being silent.


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